The primary goal of the Dallas Stars' annual development camp is to give young prospects the skills necessary to succeed as professionals, but it has become a cultural experience for its participants as well.
For the second consecutive year, Korean players have participated in the camp. In 2015, three Korean players competed, and this year there were two, defenseman Yeong Jun Seo and forward Sang Hoon Shin.
"It's very good to compete with them," said Seo, 21, who plays for Korea University. "I think it's … a really good experience for us, not just seeing and hearing [about the game], we can actually play."
Shin, 22, spent last season with Anyang Halla, which won the Asia League championship for the third time in the past seven seasons.
The first thing he noticed during development camp with the Stars was how much bigger the players are compared to those in the Asia League.
"We thought the players were really good, but the only difference is the height, maybe the height and size," Shin said. "I haven't experienced a lot of skilled play, skilled practices. This is a new, different environment. It's good for me to see it and feel it by coming here."
Dallas general manager Jim Nill is largely responsible for the Stars having Korean players in their past two camps. Nill, the GM since April 2013, has a long relationship with former NHL defenseman Jim Paek, who became the first Korean-born player in League history when he debuted with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 13, 1990, against the New York Islanders.
Part of the Penguins' 1991 Stanley Cup championship team, Paek also played for the Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators during his six-year NHL career. He later coached Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League when Nill was an assistant GM with their parent club, the Detroit Red Wings.
Now director of hockey for the Korea Ice Hockey Association and coach of the South Korea national team, Paek asked Nill in 2015 about having his players participate in development camp. Nill agreed and the experience has been positive on both sides.
"Well, I think it's great for their program and on the flip side, I think it really affects a lot of the guys here," Nill said. "We get to see their culture. Guys get to talk to them, hear where they're from. I know last year, the three guys that were here really touched a lot of guys' hearts, and I know these guys will [also]. It gives us a chance to give back to hockey a little bit."
Seo, who calls Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and Dallas' John Klingberg his favorite NHL players, was ecstatic about the opportunity to skate alongside Stars prospects, but there was one camp participant he was already familiar with before arriving.
"Well, I lived in Calgary a few years and then I actually played with [2013 fifth-round pick] Cole Ully," Seo said. "They're really helpful, the players here."
Seo and Shin absorbed every lesson they could from the camp, but the two Koreans also have a bigger purpose. They will take the experiences and apply them to their national team, which will play in its first Olympics in 2018 in PyeongChang. As the host country, South Korea automatically is qualified for the tournament.
They agree South Korea having a good performance in 2018 could help the game grow back home.
"In order for hockey to be a popular sport in Korea, because it's really not popular there, the Olympics is the No. 1 thing," Shin said. "You have to have some success in the Olympics, so it's really important for us."
"It's starting to grow, hockey, in Korea," Seo said. "We're very desperate, so the whole national team works really hard offseason and in season. We have a lot of plans, [competing in] Euro Challenges and we have a lot of games in the Asian Cup as a national team, so that we can develop until the Olympics."